Private Project

A Stray Dog's RUFF LIFE

2,000 healthy dogs are killed every day in American Shelters.

And ordinary people becoming champions for the voiceless are re-writing what it means to be humane as they challenge institutions in charge in their communities..

In Detroit we meet Terri Sumpter, a local, full-time, extreme independent dog rescuer who has energized citizens through her rescuer efforts in videos and her advocacy work by protesting the treatment of animals at Detroit Animal Control and Michigan Anti Cruelty Society then is attacked by them and most of the rest of the independent animal rescue establishment in Detroit.

In Houston we meet Tawny Hammond an influential member of the nationally known Best Friends Animal Society team as she is having the support and resources they are offering refused by Houston SPCA after Hurricane Harvey resulting in a logistical catastrophe.

In Austin, Texas we see local humane leader, national pet advocate, and Austin Pets Alive!'s Executive Director Dr. Ellen Jefferson explain why Austin is different than other cities by refusing to kill animals simply because they are homeless, while pumping $156 Million into Austin's economy as companies use the humane metric as one advantage to moving their operations to Austin, Texas

Along the way two thousand healthy dogs are killed in shelters every day simply because they are homeless, as the rescue community fights with themselves as they are too afraid to address the real issues confronting them and prefer to spend time on protecting their own coffers and brand identity.

Filming more than 100 viral videos, activist filmmaker Tom McPhee sustained a nine year examination of America's homeless and stray dog population, interviewing municipal shelter leaders and independent dog rescuers confirming up to a million healthy dogs are being killed every year in American shelters simply because they are homeless.

  • Tom McPhee
    An American Opera, Snipped In Paradise, Rock & Roll Dogs
  • Deanna McPhee
  • Tom McPhee
  • Deanna McPhee
    Snipped In Paradise
  • Tom McPhee
    An American Opera, Rock & Roll Dogs, Snipped In Paradise, Tom McPhee's Rescue Journal
  • Deanna McPhee
    Key Cast
    Snipped In Paradise
  • Tom McPhee
    Key Cast
    An American Opera, Snipped In Paradise
  • Tawny Hammond
    Key Cast
    "Best Friends Animal Society"
  • Debby MacDonald
    Key Cast
    "Michigan Humane Society"
  • Matt Pepper
    Key Cast
    "Michigan Humane Society"
  • Theresa Sumpter
    Key Cast
    "Detroit Pit Crew Rescue"
  • Mark Ramos
    Key Cast
    "Michigan Humane Society"
  • Dr. Ellen Jefferson
    Key Cast
    "Austin Pets Alive"
  • Melissa Miller
    Key Cast
    "Detroit Animal Control"
  • Kerry McKeel
    Key Cast
    "Harris County Animal Services"
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 17 minutes 22 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    February 20, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    450,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Nominated at Chandler International Film Festival
    Chandler, AZ
    United States
    January 21, 2021
    Nominated: Best Feature Documentary
  • Nominated at Harrogate Film Festival Indie Feature Competition
    Harrogate, Yorkshire
    United Kingdom
    April 23, 2021
    UK Premiere
    Nominated In Festival Features Competition
  • Nominated at ReelHeART International Film Festival
    July 5, 2021
    Canada Premiere
    Nominated for Best Feature Documentary
  • Nominated at Richmond International Film Festival
    Richmond, VA
    United States
    September 14, 2021
    Virginia, USA
    Nominated for Best Feature Documentary
    November 21, 2021
    Spanish Premiere
    Nominated: Best International Feature
Distribution Information
  • Circus Road Films
    Sales Agent
    Country: United States
    Rights: Video on Demand, Pay Per View, Hotel, Airline, Ship, Free TV, Paid TV
  • 1091 Pictures
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: Video on Demand, Pay Per View, Hotel, Free TV, Paid TV
Director Biography - Tom McPhee

Tom is a story-teller, creating original documentaries about human animal interaction. Tom produces and directs viral videos for the World Animal Awareness Society as they relate to animal rescue, with up to 100,000 people from around the world per day viewing over 500 videos from the ever-growing WA2S Films archive.

In 2009 Tom created and became Executive Director of the World Animal Awareness Society, he's an award winning producer & director of film, TV, and multi-language interactive media, and owns 2 media companies, Cave Studio and Man Smiling Moving Pictures. Tom's passion is to surround himself with people and tools that help him unlock and better understand life's mysteries.

Tom served as Show-runner and Host-Character for two animal centric TV miniseries' broadcast in Canada on the now defunct Toronto based Stornoway Communication's "The i-Channel" and their specialty niche, "Pet Network" - they were Tom McPhee's Rescue Journal and Rock & Roll Dogs in 2009.

Tom produced, directed and was principal creative force behind the multi award-winning documentary, An American Opera: The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever! (2008) chronicling the animal rescue efforts post Hurricane Katrina, with footage shot in New Orleans becoming part of a NatGeo, PBS Nature, and 2 Animal Planet specials in 2005.

Tom created and produced FLIXTOUR, the premier, nationally sponsored, college targeted, indie film tour - in the mid thru late 90's, lauded by indiewire, MovieMaker, Filmmaker and MovieLine magazines as the next 'thing' with sponsors as diverse as Pelle Pelle & Discover. FLIXTOUR achieved memorable successes, including launching indie icon Kevin Smith's ongoing & highly successful college speaking series, and more serendipitously, helping launch the comedy directing career of then almost broke Paul Feig (Freaks & Geeks. Bridesmaids, SPY). Paul wrote Freaks & Geeks while presenting his film, Life Sold Separately on FLIXTOUR in 1998.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

In October, 2009 I began building the foundation of the World Animal Awareness Society & WA2S Films to become the award-winning, animal-centric, media non-profit it is today. I had captured the devastation to New Orleans and the gulf following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 with my documentary, An American Opera The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever! and had wrapped a national screening tour in 45 cities supporting local animal rescues in 2010.

In early 2011, after much fanfare and launch of the World Animal Awareness Society, our then Michigan based non-profit was challenged by the Detroit dog rescue community to take notice of the homeless dog issues they were dealing with. I did. The World Animal Awareness Society developed the American Strays 2030 Project, an initiative to quantify the stray and homeless population of dogs and the associated community issues in the United States.

For the past 9 years I have been trying to get my head around telling a story with too many mostly opaque layers; the story of abandoned, stray, homeless dogs on American streets and in shelters, and the very rough existence they endure before a million are killed wantonly every year. I have hundreds of hours of the most compelling dog rescue footage and interviews with stakeholders all across the globe.

The American Strays Canine Survey was created, enabling volunteers to understand where the focal points of the problems are. Volunteer surveys have been deployed in many cities in Michigan, Texas, and the gulf region of the south. The canine survey allowed our teams to have purpose at the front lines of the independent dog rescue community, and to capture the raw elements that go into whether a city will be successful handling their community’s domestic animal issues.

The idea that a million dogs are killed specifically due to space issues in American shelters, for being homeless temporarily, was so very striking to me. It was right under my nose, and I truly had no idea until I saw it all first hand.

As our film team captured the action on the streets while the surveys occurred, I began to see the greater powers at work, keeping cities like Houston and Detroit from providing a higher quality of service to the animals and people in their communities.

For 2 weeks prior to Hurricane Harvey, I was in Houston surveying for homeless dogs and filming rescues working in the city, oblivious to any possible inclement weather, let alone a powerful hurricane like Harvey. After leaving Houston one day before Harvey struck, I felt compelled to come back and spent 3 additional weeks filming the aftermath.

As in New Orleans in 2005, Hurricane Harvey in 2017 tore the facade of everything away, including many of the layers that camouflage some animal shelter's activities. Hurricane Harvey opened a window into a dark secret of a multi-million dollar shelter that formerly was the focus of an Animal Planet series. Once Houston had been more thoroughly ripped open, the actual cause of the city's dog population problems became clear.

I believe the work I have put in on the American Strays 2030 Project with hundreds of people over the past 9 years will in fact cause a shift change in how American communities manage their domestic animals. RUFF LIFE is a call to action; The American Strays 2030 Project is the vehicle.